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4 even more important duties for journalists than reading the paper. The newsroom culture must change. 10/12/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in Competition, NewsCulture.

Roy Peter Clark is conducting a curious pledge-drive to keep declining newspapers going, declaring that it is journalists’ duty to buy and read more newspapers. Stranger still, he seems to believe that the failing industry’s status quo is our future, claiming “there is no substitute for the local daily newspaper if I am going to live as a full-blooded citizen in a place that I love.”

Let me suggest 4 alternative, more pressing duties for journalists in these treacherous times, all of which address critical changes that must be made to a newsroom culture that is killing-off the industry. 1) Learn your left from your right. According to a recent Gallup poll, an overwhelming two-thirds of the public now believes mainstream news is biased, and yet the mantra from journalism continues to be that — no — everyone else is wrong, the news media are “objective.” If you insist on defending the erroneous idea that it is even possible for news to be unbiased, please at least defend your position by comparing the premises behind your stories to the historically well-established criteria for left vs. right, something that is not even taught at j-schools. 2) Stop dissing your readers’ taste for sensationalism. No matter what you might prefer, much of news will always be entertainment that has no direct impact on your readers’ lives. Even you are attracted to the sensational and the titillating — it is part of our human nature, and not to be lamented. Take pride from satisfying your customers.

3) Correctly interpret the First Amendment. Get over yourselves. You have no greater rights nor responsibilities than anyone else — everyone, not just you, has the right to the “free use of a printing press” to publish their views. That’s what “freedom of the press” meant when it was written, at a time when there essentially was no “press,” just a scattering of mostly one-man printing shops. And finally, 4) Get out there and compete. Don’t just sit there and buy your own papers, but figure out what your customers want and make technology your friend. Model yourself after people like Jeff Jarvis and Jay Rosen who are aggressively pursuing new approaches, while realizing most will not work. Unless journalists are loyal to these four duties, news consumers will feel no duty to be loyal in return. Perhaps that’s why they haven’t been.


1. Ydobon - 10/12/07

From the Journalism Credibility Project done by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Liberalism’s role in our collapsing credibility from 1997.

“The liberalism of the mainline media is as blatant as a thunderclap.” – Ross Mackenzie, then editor of the editorial pages at the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch.

The rest of the article is worth reading.

2. Steve Boriss - 10/12/07

Ydobon, Thanks for bringing to our attention an all-to-rare voice of common sense on this issue from ASNE.

3. Annie B - 10/13/07

The problem is not liberalism. The problem is lying.

I can ‘correct’ for a writers perspective, once I know what it is. I may even seek such a source to ‘know what that group thinks.’ False data, however, is a deal breaker.

Ratherto Ruters to Beauchamp, there has been to much poison dumped into the well to make the MSM something I can swallow.

4. Steve Boriss - 10/13/07

Annie, In addition to “objectivity” being an impossible goal, so is “truth” given the working conditions of a journalist. Perhaps historians can get to truth, but as even modern journalism founder Walter Lippmann ultimately admitted, all journalists can really do is “signalize” events, i.e. “look over here — this is news.” I’m sure there’s some, if not a lot of lying going on, but I tend to think that most journalists actually believe what they are writing, as hard as that might be for many of us to believe. More reason for them to understand and be self-aware of left-right political ideology.

5. turfmann - 10/13/07

Annie B

You’ve got it backwards. There is lying to be sure but the lying is a direct result of the liberal ideology of the great and vast number of MSM members. Those who seek to imprint their liberal political views on us by tainting their reporting or choosing not to report at all are the ones poisoning the well, and when these self same journalists howl in protestation when they are held to account for their actions they are in essence pumping their poisoned well dry. The reason that it seems a recent phenomenon is that with the rise of the internet a bright light is being shown on their bias. Good riddence to them – think of all the trees that will be saved when newspapers go out of existance.

6. njcommuter - 10/13/07

Most of the lying is lying by omission and placing quotations out of context. This is driven by both conscious agendas and the unconscious selection of what’s important, of what the story *really* is.

Journalism school ought to be a hard lesson in recognizing this in oneself and working around it. Apparently, it is just the opposite.

7. Will Bunch - 10/13/07

I don’t get the shot at “liberalism” — it seems off message with the rest of this site. The post seems to suggest that the problem isn’t so much too much liberalism as too little transparency and too much emphasis on fake objectivity (I totally agree with that!), but then in the comments it sounds like your standard attack on “the liberal media.”

If two-thirds of the media holds liberal views, they should be transparent about it and report the news fairly but more pointedly and honestly — with comments and other opportunities for others to disagree. That will make for journalism that is more fair and more interesting to read.

If the media was so liberal, we would not be in Iraq. Also, you can’t be a big fan of Jay Rosen and also think that the media is too liberal!

8. Steve Boriss - 10/13/07

Will, I don’t believe I took a shot at liberalism in my comment. I believe that media bias is unavoidable as well as desireable. Liberal bias is no better or worse than any other type of bias. Biases should be transparent and the marketplace should be open to all ideas — which is the direction we are moving.

I don’t think there is any question that mainstream media skews liberal, and that Gallup and the public are right about this. I do not believe they are far-left, but they are center-left. Specifically, they are NYTimes/WashPost center-left. As reported in Editor & Publisher magazine, those two papers literally swap front pages each evening before publication to get on the same “page,” and this sets the “national conversation.” I do not believe their influence exerts total control over public opinion. Therefore, I would not conclude that the fact that we are in Iraq necessarily relates to what the media did or did not do.

I do condemn journalism for failing to promote an understanding of the left-right spectrum and ideological self-awareness among its practitioners. To me that is irresponsible given the claims of “objectivity.” Without this knowledge, how would they know objectivity when they saw it? And I think they are paying a price for this right now.

Jay Rosen strikes me as an intelligent, energetic, honest broker who is experimenting to find solutions to the dilemmas of news. He’s candid when things don’t work out as he thought they might. What’s not to like?

9. Julie - 10/13/07

A real page-turner!

10. Steve Boriss - 10/13/07

Julie, Shouldn’t you be studying for your test right now?

11. Right Angles » Blog Archive » Suggestions for journalists - 10/14/07

[…] To help mainstream journalism survive this kind of thinking, Steve Boriss of Washington University in St. Louis has some sage advice for mainstream journalists in his excellent blog, The Future of News. Journalists who, like me in the early ’90s, actually believe in the objectivity myth, should give it a read. Here are his four suggestions (the brief characterizations are mine. Read Boriss’s full post here): […]

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